Noise Pop and GraffEats Offer a Culinary Tribute to the Art of the Cover Song

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Heather Hryciw
Music and gourmet eats: together at last

There's a shared culture between musicians and chefs, says Noise Pop Industries marketing manager Dawson Ludwig, ticking off concrete examples, like getting off work at 2 a.m., and the more esoteric shared sense of underground and independent spirit.

Executive chef Blair Warsham, the culinary genius behind guerrilla nonprofit dining group graffEats, agrees. He even once shared kitchen responsibilities with the drummer from Band of Horses and the bassist of Bad Brains -- all three working in the same restaurant.

So it only makes sense that Noise Pop Industries and graffEats would eventually come together. Their first joint project, Covers: A Culinary Tribute, went down during the official Noise Pop festival earlier this year. That yielded such a positive response from the San Francisco music and dining crowds, they decided to do it again.

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courtesy of Noise Pop Industries
The communal dinner table

They set up a spring installment of the Covers dinner series for Thursday, May 26, set to take place in an undisclosed Mission location. That sold out within seven days. So late last week they added a second date on Wednesday, May 25, which sold out within 24 hours.

The concept is this: Chef Warsham creates a menu of "covers" -- dishes made known by today's culinary giants -- then Noise Pop cohorts pair the courses with thematic cover songs. For instance, this time around, the six-course meal will include Thomas Keller's grilled octopus tentacles with chorizo and green almonds, which will be musically paired with Giant Squid's cover of Syd Barrett's "Octopus." It's all pretty logical when you get down to it.

"We'd been toying with the idea of working with different food events," says Noise Pop Industries associate producer Julie Zielinski. "Eventually, we'll add a live music component."

If you weren't one of the 42 people each night who scored tickets, you shouldn't fret. It sounds like more Covers dinners are on the horizon. As of now, the collaborators have been discussing holding the dinners four times a year. While Zielinski jokes that she'd "have them every day" if they keep selling out the way have been, it likely would take a toll on Warsham.

"Writing the Covers menu is the hardest menu I ever have to write," he says, inferring it's perhaps similar to creating an album, "You want your opening dish strong and punchy, leading into the next one just right, then bring it down, then bring it back up. I have to narrow down the chefs that I love and learn their exact recipe, and it's got to be seasonal."

This time around, the menu will include -- along with the aforementioned octopus -- a dish originally created by Quince's Michael Tusk, "Homage to Spring" ravioli hedgehog mushrooms, peas and tarragon, lemon ricotta thyme and onions, roasted garlic cream and artichoke. To accompany that dish, Noise Pop chose Air France's remix of St. Etienne's "Spring" and Nina Simone's version of "Here Comes the Sun."

There also will be edible tributes to chef Charlie Trotter's chilled snap pea soup, chef Susur Lee's aged beef with yamaio and chef Pierre Herme's "Tengo" raspberry, red pepper, parmesan reggiano cream, sesame pate sucree -- the last naturally paired with Yo La Tengo.

The concept seems natural -- covers and covers. And yet, there doesn't seem to be anything else quite like it in the San Francisco food scene yet. But this city is the perfect locale for such an experiment.

"San Francisco is always looking for something different, not just your general sit at a restaurant and eat," says Zielinski.

"The music scene here is so vibrant," adds Ludwig, "and the food scene is unsurpassed. It's the perfect blend -- it's like a Goldilocks world for music and food."

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